Can you hear me now? No more product mentions.
It's not the fault of "30 Rock's" staff. They're given a direct order from NBC to find the best way to make a cheap plug work within the show - which is no doubt why Tina Fey has spoofed General Electric integration on "30 Rock" while (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) also employing real product placement. It's a necessary evil. I get that. But while Fey's direct turn to the camera asking for cash was meant to be subversive by breaking down the invisible wall, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Apparently it isn't enough that we have to sit through three Pepsi MAX and four Cadillac commercials before the trailers come on at the movie theater. Now marketing hacks are opening the checkbook so TV shows can "cleverly" integrate product mentions into targeted comedies. As detailed in this Hollywood Reporter article, the "30 Rock" joke in question revolved around a scene where Jack Donaghy tells Liz Lemon, "These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance." Liz responds, "Well, sure that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. If I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, 'Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one?' " She then faces the camera and says, "Can we have our money now?"
It's upfront. It attempts to "stick it to the man" by acknowledging the promo. And maybe it'd be funny if the show hadn't already done the same thing with Snapple products back in Season One, which was a hilarious routine directly lifted from the "Motherboy XXX" episode of "Arrested Development." In the now-canceled Fox show, several characters embarrassingly fawn over Burger King, which paid the network for product placement - kind of amusing, when you consider "AD" probably had worse ratings than professional bowling on a Saturday afternoon. In fact, it's been reported that "AD" wanted to call the episode the "Tendercrisp Chicken Comedy Half-Hour." That it got changed might be an indication that open mockery of the King went TOO far. Anyway, it was a classic bit, but not something that'd hit the same mark a second or third time.
To be fair, "30 Rock" isn't the only show doing this. There's actually a top 10 list of product placement shows as charted by Nielsen, with another NBC comedy, "The Office," among those well-known for cutting major integration deals. But if you think about Staples or Chili's mentions in the first few seasons, those were blended seamlessly within the show, and more or less allowed "Scranton" to feel as authentic as the cities we might drive through every day. Even that gets old to writers though, with "Office" showrunner Greg Daniels quoted as saying his sitcom is no longer doing product integration because he "found it pretty impossible to balance the desires of the ad agencies and their clients with the creative needs of the show." Amen.
So first time, really funny. Second time, still pretty good. Third time, now I'm getting annoyed.
Am I wrong about this? Does anyone else care?
-- Thomas Rozwadowski, firstname.lastname@example.org